Fennesz: Bécs (CD, Editions Mego, April 2014)

This record was quite a surprise to me. I associate Christian Fennesz with a kind of ambient drone. On The Black Sea, for example, his guitar is mostly looped and processed beyond recognition to create a richly textured fuzz; on his collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto, he provides a similarly fuzzy backdrop to Sakamoto’s delicate piano twinkles. Here, well, here there are quite a lot of actual tunes. True, that trademark fuzz is there, but are actual recognizable melodies floating through it. Tracks like Liminality (aside: “liminal” is one of my favourite words) for example, sound somewhat like one of those buskers on the Underground who feeds their electric guitar through a box which adds a huge amount of distortion and reverb… except, you know, good, done with care for the layering and interplay so that it creates an effect of real mystery and emotional power. On the title track, there’s a tune which if frankly anthemic which is teetering on the brink of breaking free of the fuzz. Other tracks are more laid-back: Pallas Athene, for example, reminds me vaguely of a live guitar reinterpretation of a Leyland Kirby number. The closing number, Paroles, starts out as a relatively straight guitar tune, sort of country-ish in style I’d say, before the effects and the buzzing and the crackle start encroaching: it’s telling that, where I’d half expected that drone to take over and the album to fade out in a sea of noise, they actually stay in balance right to the end. This is an odd sort of a record, and it took me a while to get into it, but now I really like it. Plus, I never expected to hear a Fennesz record which gave me real honest-to-god earworms…

I bought this in Sister Ray, an actual shop.

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